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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 May 2015
Slightly more than half the book recounts Mitterrand's ascent to the Presidency of France in 1981: how in his youth, his friendships were on the far Right; how he was taken prisoner of war by the Germans, but escaped to Vichy; initially supported Pétain and was decorated by him; broke with Vichy in 1943 and became part of the Resistance; supported Giraud against De Gaulle; disliked the socialists and joined a centre-left party; held several Cabinet posts in the Fourth Republic; considered De Gaulle's return to power in 1968 as a military coup and denounced De Gaulle's Constitution as "a permanent coup d'état"; only committed himself to Socialism as late as 1965; managed to create a left-wing coalition (including the Communists); ran unsuccessfully for President against De Gaulle in 1965 and against Giscard d'Estaing in 1974, but finally won the Presidency in 1981. He was now as presidential and authoritarian as any previous President; but twice during his 14-year-long Presidency, his party lost control of the Assembly to the right-wing parties and he was compelled into "cohabitation" with right-wing prime ministers.

The book brings out very well Mitterrand's personality: many people found him cold, reserved, aloof, secretive and enigmatic; but he had circles of close friends to whom he was loyal under all circumstances; but he never forgave socialists who had opposed him, and that would bedevil his relationships with several leaders of his own party. Many women, younger than him, found his charm irresistible, and he had many affaires.

He ran a second family with Anne Pingeot, but he remained "loyal" to his wife Danielle (with whom he had two sons) and accepted that she, too, had a lover, Jean Balenci. When François and Danielle moved into a new house in Paris in 1973, Balenci moved in with them. In 1974 Anne, who lived ten minutes' walk away, gave birth to their daughter Mazarine, named after the 17th century Cardinal Mazarin with whose wily suppleness Mitterrand identified himself. In those days the French press did not reveal the personal lives of politicians, and Mitterrand's liaison was not published until shortly before the end of his second term as President. Nor was the fact that, only six months into his first Presidency, he was diagnosed with a prostate cancer which had already spread into the bone: his life expectancy was just three years. But he lived to complete his second presidency and died in 1996, 15 years after the diagnosis.

The book is not an easy read - it is enormously detailed, and the text is peppered with many names and with a plethora of organizations, political parties and often amorphous groupings - their acronyms take up five pages at the back - which made the politics of the Fourth and even the Fifth Republic so messy, unstable and filled with manoeuvres. A further 62 pages of notes at the back - nearly 10% of the text - are not just source references, but predominantly expand on the main text and should really have joined the other footnotes in the book rather than being end notes. But so many quite long footnotes are quite a distraction.

Throughout the book Short is not afraid to deliver his own verdicts on Mitterrand's mistakes, especially in domestic politics: that he had poor understanding of and little interest in economics; that his hesitations sometimes led to his taking necessary actions too late; that his handling of his socialist colleagues was poor. (In the last few months of his life he lambasted practically every politician with whom he had worked.) Short judges him to have been sounder, shrewder and, on the whole, more successful in his foreign policy. France's relations with the United States, Germany, Britain, the European Community and Russia bulk large in the chapters covering Mitterrand's Presidency.
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on 18 May 2017
The book was delivered in good time, and everything appeared to be okay. However, when I flicked through the pages, a piece of fruit-cake dropped out. I wasn't expecting this as no mention of it was made in the advert. Closer inspection also revealed that the dust jacket was encrusted in what can only be described as small pieces of dried food. Additionally, butter or margarine (it is not possible to tell which) had seeped from the fruit-cake and had stained eight pages of black and white photographs.
I am sure that once I have wiped down the cover with a proprietary disinfectant the book will be readable. However, I strongly recommend that in future this particular seller supplies a list of potential ingredients with every order so that the customer knows what to expect.
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on 11 June 2017
Comprehensive review of a man revered by many in France, who held the levers of power for a long time. Not always appreciated that he was a Vichy collaborator who switched sides to the Resistance and who had two families. Why his wife put up with him is beyond me. It brings to life the cynicism of modern politics, where principles are just assets to be used or discarded as one wants, in order to gain power over others.
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on 6 March 2015
At last, an excellent biography of one of the greatest French Presidents ever. I met Francois Mitterand on many occasions and would agree that he was indeed a complicated individual but supremely kind and loyal to those he liked. Ambiguous he most certainly was and Mr Short has done an excellent job of unraveling the truths and half truths about this great man. Liberace once replied to a lady who asked if he had heard all the rumors going around about him, he replied that he had because he had started most of them and you would have probably got the same answer if you had posed the same question to President Mitterand!
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on 23 March 2018
An excellent work, well researched and thorough. One truly comes away with a good picture of the man and what motivated him. Fascinating vignettes of the politics during his time and disturbingly relevant in today's France. The same ticks, clans and reform projects persist. Even M Macron's tactics and strategy appear to have been informed by Mitterand.
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on 12 January 2014
This is a first class book based both on a wide and deep knowledge of all that has written about Mitterrand and first hand experience of his time as President when the author was the BBC Paris correspondent. His narrative flows like a novel, there are many small anecdotes that illustrate his story, an insightful description of his family background, and his complicated private life. There is an excellent assessment of Mitterrand's achievements and failures, his relationship with de Gaulle. and his dealings other political figures in post-war France.
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on 16 April 2014
French politics are complicated and it takes an experienced writer like Philip Short to guide one through the various governments in which Mitterand served and the precise political stance of each new administration.Mitterand was cold in character and not good at making close friends or friendships with women.I felt very much for his wife and children whether legitimate or not.He dominated French politics for so many years that one has to persevere with this scholarly life in order to understand post De Gaulle political life.
Not a book to take on holiday!
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on 3 July 2014
Essentially a political biography of a very complicated person and by the time one gets to the end one wonders what on earth was he doing on the left other than trying to build a political party to oppose the Gaullists. In this there are similarities with Tony Blair. As a supporter of social justice at home there is very little to convince the reader that Mitterand thought deeply about economics. His support for policies such nationalization of industry and shorter working hours are seen as social programs aimed at keeping the communists on board whilst he busied himself manoeuvering in the political space to create a large socialist party to achieve and then sustain his position. Such a calculating person was bound to have a difficult personal life and I just cannot imagine how he would have been able to sustain that lifestyle under New Labour. Bravo for him - he lived his life largely as he wanted.
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on 31 December 2014
Obviously interesting to those interested in French politics, however, also a fascinating insight into all those Euro negotiations of the Thatcher era and some interesting asides on other politicians. I do find it interesting the way in which the French treat the private lives of their politicians compared with the UK.
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on 5 January 2017
Perhaps an impossible task trying to capture this most elusive of sly foxes but the author does a creditable job of getting underneath the sphinx-like mask. If you want to know what made the man tick, this is a good place to start your quest.
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